Unite Your Board and Blast Off!
In these columns I address real-life obstacles and challenges that nonprofits face in creating sustainable funding to deliver their missions and achieve real impact. Readers write via email to receive a quick consultation and perhaps have their particular problems addressed in these columns.
I received an email just before New Year's from the executive director of a social-services organization in the Northeast. Mary related to me her frustrations with getting her board members to become a group with a solid mission and purpose rather than just a collection of well-meaning individuals who meet periodically.
As Mary described their situation, it seemed healthy enough. Board members attend meetings reasonably well. They usually do what they say they will do. And they are regular donors, for the most part.
So what's Mary's beef, you say? What she sees lacking is the energy and passion that a group unified behind a single purpose and vision can provide.
Why is this important? Mary sees not only what is being done but has a vision for what can be achieved in their small community. As she ran through the list of board members, each and every one, their motives for board service were positive and valid.
And yet …
I sensed Mary's frustration, as I have also seen what I call "robot service." Don't get me wrong: Many a charitable organization would love to have a leadership board operating at this level of competence. When you've seen a group that is truly united, however, you realize how much more can be achieved. It's the power of synergy.
After a few questions via an email exchange, I suggested that Mary use an upcoming board session to try something new. In advance of that meeting, I suggested she contact a board member whom she knew had a story to tell, a heartfelt reason for being there. At the meeting, Mary would use her time on the agenda to suggest that everyone present briefly share his or her "story" with the others. The prearrangement with the one member would allow for the process to get off to a smooth start.
The meeting was scheduled just a few days after our exchange. Mary got back with me to tell me the result. It was as we hoped. That one story created both the invitation and the emotional space for the other board members to share their personal reasons for being there.
Board members learned that they had far more in common than they ever thought. People from disparate backgrounds and viewpoints discovered the underlying passions and heartfelt motives for giving of their time and resources. They've even arranged a board "social" — a first — to share more!
I suspect that this organization is in for a year of unprecedented growth in 2015. It's truly a blessing that it's happened so early in the year. It's one of those New Year's "resolutions" that will really stick!
My thanks to Mary for reaching out and sharing. I extend my best wishes to her and the worthy organization she serves.
Please let me hear from you concerning your particular situation and the difficulties you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me and I'll give you a quick response. I'll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
An internationally recognized philanthropy and fundraising thought leader, Larry C. Johnson trains the staff and volunteers of worthy causes to achieve real impact through the creation of reliable, growing revenue streams. He emphasizes principles before methods as the key to long-lasting success. He stresses the simple, the practical and the joyful.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles, the premier brand for educational products and services in relational fundraising and philanthropy. The Eight Principles provides digital education, live workshops and structured coaching to nonprofit organizations.
Author of the award-winning book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising," AFP named Larry Outstanding Development Executive in 2010. The Wall Street Business Network ranks him in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the USA. Larry is a graduate of Yale University. Larry speaks widely and serves on numerous nonprofit and corporate boards, including The Philanthropy Council of The Carter Center, the philanthropy of the 39th President of the U.S.